by Nadja Maril
Shiny pink paper. Did people still wrap girl’s gifts in pink? The pink stood out in contrast to the other parcels, wrapped in red, yellow and blue, Happy Birthday greetings scribbled across the top.
Oh, I hope Kelly enjoys this party and she doesn’t miss her dad too much, thought Lena. This was the second birthday he’d missed, but he’d gotten his orders. Shipped out the previous Tuesday. She held up her smartphone and clicked. I’ve got to take really good pictures, she told herself.
The children jumped as high as they dared on the trampoline, supervised by the gym’s instructor, and went down the soft slide to tumble on the mats. Kelly shrieked, “Look at me. Look at me,” spinning as she jumped. Lena switched the phone’s setting to video.
The cake was in the kitchen area and the ice cream in the freezer. “Now this is the way to have a party,” she heard one parent say to another. “No mess to clean up.”
“Of course, he can join the fun,” she’d told one of the mothers who apologetically brought a sibling due to lack of a babysitter. Maybe this mother also had an unreliable spouse, sticking her with double child duty. She could certainly relate to that. “Don’t worry about it,” she said.
To be kind, she’d invited Kelly’s entire kindergarten class, eighteen students. But it was winter, and many were home with colds. When signing the contract, she had to agree to pay for each additional child over the minimum number of ten. She counted eleven.
Several of the mothers and fathers brought their own coffee and Lena wondered whether she should have purchased coffee and tea for the adults. No, she told herself, I was right to keep it simple. I’ve already gone over budget. She pushed away thoughts of her dwindling bank account.
As they sat, backs against the wall, legs sprawled out in front of them watching the boys and girls play, she turned to the other mother with the extra child. “My name’s Lena, by the way. Refresh my memory, you are? And your two boys’ names?”
The woman reached out a manicured hand. The polish on her fingers was a bluish gray. “I’m Margo and my older son is Ben. His little brother is Zak.”
“Does he have a nickname?” Lena armpits started to feel sticky and she wished she’d worn a lighter sweater. “I don’t remember a Ben in the class.”
“Your daughter is Maggie, right? The birthday girl.”
“Kelly. Her name’s Kelly.” Lena’s belly began to ache. “Are you sure you’re in the right place?’
Margo reached into her purse and pulled out a crumpled invitation and a pair of reading glasses. “Oh no,” she said. “I’ve got the wrong day and some of the children looked so familiar. Maybe I know them from swimming or someplace else.”
Lena looked over at her daughter jumping on the trampoline, gold paper birthday crown still on her head, and at Ben completing a somersault on the mat followed by Zak attempting to imitate him. “You know the party is already half over,” she said. “And they’re having such fun, they might as well stay.”
“Gee, thank you.” Margo rested her hand lightly on Lena’s shoulder and lowered her voice to a whisper. “They would be so disappointed if I dragged them away now.”
At the end of the hour, Lena distributed slices of cake and debated whether it would be wise to let Kelly open her presents now or to wait. But one present was missing, the shiny pink package. She turned in time to see Margo with Ben and Zak, walking towards the door, the package under her arm.
Margo waved goodbye and gestured to the package. “It was meant for Maggie,” she said.